Friday, April 24, 2009

Spies React to Duchy Walkout

Just when you might think there’s nothing more to say about yesterday’s post, our spies stepped up. Here’s what they had to say about the incident and the County Council in general. Hide the children.

Spy #1:

Duchy is the perfect foil for George...he provokes her and gets an immediate, irrational response. Unfortunately, as entertaining as this might seem, it doesn’t improve the working environment at the Council and is particularly unhelpful while we’re trying to handle the budget.

Spy #2:

Trachtenberg’s behavior may be questionable when viewed in the larger context. However, on another level, I sympathize with her walking out. I could easily see myself having a tough morning, and then walking into the lion’s den only to be needled by one of the council’s most acerbic members. Everyone knows that the group dynamic on the council is horrible. Individually, I think most members are fairly sane and rationale - but once they enter a group setting, all bets are off. The council could use a facilitator but I for one would not want the job. I think I would end up throwing my hands in the air after 30 minutes and saying, “I give up – you’re all f*****d.”

Spy #3:

It is all about the “Malcontents” and the “Grown-ups.”

There are four members of this Council who are nothing but malcontents and political opportunists. They do nothing but play to the grandstands for their own benefit on issues that are politically safe (and play well to a very liberal Democratic primary voting universe). They don’t bother to solicit thoughts or ideas from anyone outside of the narrow little slice of constituencies they consider their base because, let’s face it, they know so much more than everyone else (just ask them). They rarely even talk with any of the other four members who are not perceived as “on their team,” and they spend way too much time talking with one another so they can wield their influence by voting as a bloc (open meeting laws notwithstanding). I wouldn’t mind this behavior as much if these four had the County’s best interests at heart, but they don’t. It’s all about them and their immediate, short-term, self-perceived, political self-interest. I don’t want to name names, but these four are Duchy Trachtenberg, Marc Elrich, Phil Andrews and Roger Berliner.

The other four members of the Council, whom I will call the “grown-ups” for this discussion (although all things are relative here), are the ones I see repeatedly coming in prepared for meetings, having done their homework, knowing what they are talking about most of the time, reaching out to various people for their opinions (whether they were with them in the last campaign or not), and doing the job they were elected to do (in some cultures, it is referred to as “leadership,” which I am told used to be practiced occasionally here as well). Unfortunately, these four (whose identities you may be able to deduce by now) had two distinct disadvantages: (1) there were only four of them, which meant they were often outvoted; and (2) they were reluctant to believe that the Council was split down the middle in this fashion, and stubbornly kept trying to work with some of the four in the other bloc, without much success. The fact that not all of the “grown-ups” get along all the time personally, and they don’t agree among themselves on everything, no doubt contributed to this as well.

The really dysfunctional thing here is how these two blocs interact with the Executive. The grown-ups are much more aligned with County Executive Leggett on all his major initiatives, but they are not his political allies. The malcontents are his allies and he repeatedly tries to rely on them to move his policies forward, despite the obvious fact (obvious to everyone except Ike I guess) that they despise virtually everything he is trying to do and have no intention of supporting any of it, ever. The fact that this obvious dynamic has not dawned on the Leggett team before now is one of life’s great mysteries.

Two things have now fundamentally changed (regardless of the final outcome in the primary, actually): (1) the “grown ups” will now have 5 votes on the Council and the “malcontents” will have 4 on most issues. (2) the “grown-ups” have put their differences behind them and are starting to realize that they can get us moving in the right direction again if they work together as a team. The question now is, will the Executive start working with them and tell the malcontents to take a hike?

What a concept! This special election is a huge step in the right direction.

Spy #4:

Believe it or not, Council Members really do look first to the County Executive for leadership. Whether they agree with the CE or not, a strong CE helps keep the Council from getting fractured and dysfunctional. A strong CE enables the Council to get things done because a majority will try to work with the CE and, if they can’t agree, they will find alternatives. What we have today, however, is a very weak Executive who leaves a leadership vacuum. No Council Member has been able to fill that void, either because they lack the skills or the personal relationships on which a leadership foundation is built. Let’s face it, these Council Members don’t just disagree philosophically, they also don’t like or trust each other.

Budget time is crazy time, when Council Members and the Executive typically get into some arguments. What we saw yesterday, however, is beyond the norm. The Council is like a volcano, showing periodic signs of unrest and periodically emitting hot air. Yesterday, it erupted. And while it’s hard to predict volcanic activity, it’s a safe bet that we will see more activity as we get deeper into the budget season. And we haven’t yet hit election season!

Spy #5:

It’s normal in a legislative, political environment for tensions to run high. However, this Council has taken dysfunction to a new low. Personal comportment, dignity, respect and honesty seem to be out the window with many on the Council. Combined together, the members of this Council seem to bring out the worst in each other. It’s very sad to see. Montgomery County prides itself on good government. That’s something we’re not seeing these days.